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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Bookshops versus online shopping

A work colleague sent me a link to this article listing the author's pick of the twenty most beautiful bookshops in the world and I just had to share it. I reckon it would be possible to organise an interesting 'round the world trip based on these locations...with plenty of reading time in between - and lots of posting crates of books home as you go... I posted three crates of books back to Australia from Florence when I was there for a month in 2005!

Seriously though, I do get the convenience of shopping online. And I get that sometimes it's cheaper. And I get that there are some books you can't get easily and that offers a simple solution. However, I don't believe that browsing on a screen and 'adding to cart' can ever replace the multiple pleasures of browsing the shelves and stumbling across treasures you may not have expected to find - and we all know how guilty of that I can be... It's also about relationships. When we patronise a bookshop regularly, we build relationships with the staff, we preserve an element of the villages we have all but lost - particularly those of us who live in big cities. With our recent house move, I now need to get in the car and drive to Oscar and Friends, where I used to be able to walk around the corner. I don't have a neighbourhood book shop any more, and that's sad. I don't lack for bookshops, but it just takes more planning to get to them. However, that's not enogh reason for me to start shopping online - they're not that far away!
 

This is Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France... Click on the link above to read the article and see the other places - they're just amazing... If you have a favourite bookshop, send me a pic and I'll post it!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I dream of a library

OK, I just found this amazing photo - when my bookshelves grow up, they want to look just like this:


To totally customise it, I would want to change the rug on the floor - it needs to be much bigger, and more luxurious. Then add a huge squashy couch with lots of cushions and a mohair rug, for curling up and reading on a chilly day. A few side tables for the current reading list... A couple of armchairs for visiting readers. Oh, and lamps - I love lamps. Although, the lighting on the bookshelves themselves is pretty cool.

I love that there is natural light from those wonderful windows - without sacrificing too much book space. And I just lust after the whole mezzanine, grown up library second level thing - hopefully there's a funky circular staircase to get up there.

A girl's gotta dream...

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Three 'Bs' of Reading - Books vs Kindles, iPads, etc...

I had a conversation yesterday with  colleague that highlighted, yet again, the divide between all the new digital technology for reading against traditional books. She's an iPad user, with lots of books loaded onto her device, which she swears by for its portability and convenience. She said she's about to head off on a three week trip, and that means she needs to take a lot of books - and if it were actual books, that's a potential luggage issue - hence the value of her iPad. I get the convenience - I really do. However, I have a number of worries about all these devices.

As I've mentioned before - in my very first blog post - my No.2 son reads on his iPad. Prior to purchasing this little beast, he had books downloaded onto his iPhone and read them that way. Another friend of mine has a Kindle and gets nearly all her reading matter via eBook downloads to the Kindle.

Twenty - No.2 son - complains frequently of his disturbed and erratic sleep patterns and almost constant headaches. He takes his iPad to bed with him to read before lights out - as generations of us have done with books. However, I question the relaxation and wind-down factor when it is yet another screen that his eyes and brain are having to deal with late at night.

Like me, Twenty is in a job where he sits in front of a computer screen all day. He reads his iPad on the bus en route to work, and again going home at the end of the day. He then might watch some TV, or play some games on his home computer. And then to bed with the iPad. In my conversation with my colleague yesterday, I raised this - saying that for myself, apart from my love of actual books as objects, after looking at a screen all day, the last thing I want to do is be reading from another one at night... That smacks of more work! I even find myself loath to turn the TV on when I get home these days. We're saturated by digital media and it's well-nigh impossible to avoid it these days.

And so we come to the title of this post. The conversation yesterday wrapped up with what my colleague called 'The Three Bs of reading' - where an iPad, iPhone, Kindle, or any other electronic device is redundant. In bed, at the beach and in the bath. I don't know where all you other book junkies read. I tend not to read at the beach, mostly because I'm not a great beach person. I do read in bed and in the bath. The vulnerabilities of the digital devices to the latter two environments hardly needs to be spelled out - I'm sure you can all relate stories of your own, or of others, of the disastrous combination of water and these devices... And yes, a book dropped in the bath can be a fairly sorry object - but once dry, even if a bit wrinkled, it still works! As far as reading in bed is concerned, I still maintain that inflicting the phsical processing that has to go on in our brains to deal with yet another lot of pixels, versus the stability of a printed page has to be detrimental to our eyes, brains and subsequent ability to drift quietly into sleep.

Where and how do you all read? Any thoughts?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Only in America...

I may have created a monster....now I have people actually sending me pics! This is very, very cool - and very, very big! Makes me think of Arriety with her diary and pencil - Mary Norton's The Borrowers - go find a copy and have yourself a delicious read if the reference is meaningless!

Anyway, here's the photo I was just sent by an old friend via Facebook - it's the Kansas City Library:



Ammunition

My friends find the BEST photos... Probably they subscribe to somewhere for them - me, I just appropriate them and share them here! This one from a librarian friend - not sure if it's the library she's just moved to with her job or somewhere else.


I'm trying - with the students I tutor - to impress upon them the necessity to brace themselves and darken the doors of the library when they're doing research for school papers. They're at schools with good libraries. They all live within easy reach of good public libraries - one of them is pretty close to the state library. Unfortunately, they are the generation who want everything NOW, and at the click of a mouse.

Remembering my time lecturing degree students and the first crop of art history essays I had to mark at one institution - at second year level - with too many that had  bibliographies comprised totally of websites, when there was an excellent library across the hall from where I held my classes and a university library in the building next door. There was just no excuse, it was sheer laziness on their part. The papers were, predictably, regurgitated, reorganised blocks of text copied directly from the websites. I failed them. I delivered my next lecture on the topic on resources - which was a long way from the topic of Colonial Australian Art History. However, I figured if they wanted a shot at passing the semester, they might find it useful.

I have told this story to my high school English and History students. They look at me very wide-eyed. One of them does do books, and told me last week that he's made Friday after school his public library day - since the school library is closed after school on Fridays. (???) He also reads for pleasure, unlike the other two. The others joke about it, but I can see them thinking and I'm very sure that one of their thoughts is that they're glad I'm not actually marking their work! However, they have about a year and a half to go - all of them - before they finish school, and their big exams next year... So, it would be a good idea for them to start making better friends with books...

On that note, it is time for me to go get ready for work, where I have a magazine to put together and, hopefully, the late copy that should be arriving today. Fingers crossed.

Looking at bookcases

Oh my - this has to be one of the ultimate bookcases I've come across... I was having a moment between things, did a search of bookcase images and found this - a whole house made of bookcases... That's got to be my idea of heaven!

A House Made Of Bookcases 
pic from http://en.paperblog.com/a-house-made-of-bookcases-32423/

You have to hand it to the Japanese for fitting more of anything into a single space. This is in Osaka and the floor space is flexible apparently. Pretty cool, huh?

So, my fellow book junkies, do we all want one? 

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Reading is a contagious disease

A fellow book blogger and follow of this blog recently bought a stack of John Wyndham paperbacks, released by Penguin with shiny new designs. He's written about them here, and has a review of his first reading, Chockyhere. I warned him that reading his crits of his Wyndhams was likely to set me off on another re-reading of them...

John Wyndham is an old friend of mine in my bookcases. As I commented on Peter's blog, my somewhat battered collection date from many years ago and have none of the schmick glamour of his nice new ones. His response was that mine are probably collector's items now. I'm not so sure of that really - they're a bit bashed around through much use. Most of them are Penguin Classics, one of which was converted by the library from which I bought it into a hardcover by pulling the covers off, pasting them onto hardboard and then sticking it all back together again with book tape! My copy of Trouble with Lichen is the odd book out, being a lone hardcover - with very contemporary ink illustrations dotted through the pages.


My all time favourite is The Chrysalids. We studied it at school, early in high school - and this is my copy from then! I think we did The Day of the Triffids as well, I can't quite remember. My school buddy who follows this blog might recall.... The Chrysalids was the first time I'd read anything in the SF genre that wasn't some big inter-galactic battle or that had a primary focus on technology. I had read the John Christopher trilogies - The Tripods and The Prince in Waiting - which are set, like The Chrysalids, post apocalypse, when the world and society is reduced back to much more primitive styles of living after the havoc wrought by the abuse of technology. The Chrysalids is, like most of Wyndham's writing, focused on the human condition; the human and emotional experience of whatever situations he writes for his characters. 


In The Chrysalids, we find a community that is deeply rooted in old Biblical precepts of what constitutes God-like perfection of species - man, beast and plants. Without it being spelled out how they come about, the reader learns that in these small communities there are deformities that must be rooted out and destroyed, and they are there because of the sins of those who came before and caused the wastelands at the perimeters of their useable land. David Strorm is the son of one of the leaders in his community. Strorm senior is one of the most rigid enforcers of the laws that state any deformed plant or beast on his property must be destroyed. David is something of a loner, separated from his nearest siblings on either side by large gaps in years that are unexplained, although has has hazy memories of babies being born, babies that didn't live. There is also the puzzling awareness of the unexplained fact that his father, owner of the family property and head of the familiy, is the second son... And then one day he meets Sophie, a little girl with six toes on each foot. He discovers it when she is hurt and he has to take her shoe off to free it from where it is caught. Her parents swear him to silence, but to himself, he starts to question - how could two tiny toes make small girl evil?

There is also the close communication he has with his cousin Rosalind, which he learns early to not mention - initially just though an innate sense of caution, later as he realises that it is something that makes them different. And there are others...friends in the area with whom he and Rosalind can also communicate, mind to mind. They don't understand what it is, but as they grow older and more aware of the potential dangers, they grow closer and more cautious. 

The David's little sister, Petra is born. Passed by the local authorities, she is another 'perfect' child born to the Strorms. A few days later, David's aunt arrives with her baby, also just born. Unlike Petra, this child has a minor defect and she begs David's mother to substitute Petra for the inspection to gain a certificate of purity for her baby. She is refused, and this is her third 'imperfect' child. David's father hounds her from the house, calling her a blasphemer. The news comes later that her body has been found in the river. Losing a third child breaks her.

By now, David is very aware that his ability to communicate with the others via their thoughts - a form of telepathy - would be seen equally as a deformity and is very frightened. However, they have all grown up being cautious and protective of their secret, and so they stay until the day when the eight of them discover that they have become nine. David, in the middle of the fields helping with the harvest, is struck by a severe pain in his head and in imperative so strong that he just bolts from the fields in response to the unspoken call - it is six year old Petra who, playing, has fallen into a pond and is drowning. In her panic, she unknowingly transmits. her panic He signal was so powerful it also brings Rosalind and they realise the dangers of any number of them converging on a spot due to a summons that nobody else will have heard. 

The next crisis comes when another of the girls, Anne, decides to marry - outside their group. They all understand the dangers, but she is not to be persuaded otherwise. When, in order to protect them, David's uncle - the only one not of their group who knows of their gift - has the young man killed, Anne denounces them. They flee, heading for The Fringes - outlying areas where it is known mutations occur with frequency. The Fringes are populated by those humans judged mutant in infancy; sterilised and cast out to survive or not, they live, struggling for survival in an anarchic world of basic survival. There, Sophie, David's childhood friend who was eventually caught, surfaces and elects to help them. There too is David's uncle, his father's older brother, a man with grossly overlong limbs on a stunted torso, who is an embittered man of considerable power who rules over the little community.

Petra's extraordinary signals have been picked up by others on the other side of the world, who come from a community where everyone can communicate telepathically and it becomes a race against time as the Sealanders travel to rescue them, those hunting them close in and a clash between the 'righteous' and the inhabitants of The Fringes begins.

This is a book about fear of the unknown, bigotry and great sacrifice. It is also a book about love and understanding of difference. It contains one of my all time favourite passages of text about the nature of love - a summing up by David, in silence, when Sophie, in The Fringes, asks him if he loves Rosalind,
 'So you're in love with her?' she went on.
A word again... When the minds have learnt to mingle, when no thought is wholly one's own, and each has taken too much of the other ever to be entirely himself alone; when one has reached the beginning of seeing with a single eye, loving with a single heart. enjoying with a single joy; when there can be moments of identity and nothing is separate save bodies that long for one another... When there is that, where is the word? There is only the inadequacy of the word that exists.
 'We love one another,' I said.
More than anything else, my reading of this book, each and every time - and I would probably re-read this one at least once a year, sometimes more often - brings home to me how much we lose by condemning what is different, what we don't understand - out of fear. The people in the story fear difference, they fear what doesn't conform, and they create a system of evaluation of perfection and fit it into a religious framework so that when something doesn't fit the norm, not only is it unacceptable, it is an offense in the sight of God. There is an alternative - we can seek to understand the unfamiliar, the unknown...and look for ways to learn about it that are mutually enriching...

For those of you who have yet to discover Wyndham's writing, look for the books. As Peter discovered, Penguin have recently re-published them in paperback. He got his copies in a Kinokuniya store. We have one of those in Sydney and I'll he heading over there to see if I can track down a copy of the volume of short stories that I don't have... Otherwise, go check out your local bookshop and give yourself a treat of some exceptionally timeless writing!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

REAL books!

Another quick extra curricular number - again, courtesy of a friend's post on Facebook. Remember my first post way back in January? If you're new to my blog, go check it out after you've stopped laughing over this pic!

Monday, 21 May 2012

AWESOME bookcase!

This is a bit extra-curricular. It's my coffee break, and I just had to share this amazing bookcase which I appropriated from a friend's Facebook page. I don't currently have a wall that could take it, but a mini version to go above my work table would be a mighty fine thing...I wonder if they come small...


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Amazing, the things you find when you move. Readers may remember back when I was discussing Catcher in the Rye  that there was a conversation I had with an old school buddy who follows my blog - and he challenged me - and himself - to go back and re-read Muriel Spark's classic, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which we did at school around the same time as Catcher. I thought it was one of the books I'd consigned to storage prior to my previous move. Not so... When I was re-stacking the bookcases on the weekend - thank you, Dearly Beloved, for packing them and moving them all while I was a t work - I came across my copy and put it to one side to read.


It is, as I discovered, a very interesting exercise to read a book as an adult, years after having to read it as a teenager...or, for that matter, to re-read something that you've only read before at any age because you had to for study purposes (I'm thinking of my gentle wanderings though A Room of One's Own - which I am enjoying immensely, and far differently to my uni reading of it, knowing I had to respond critically within an academic context).

There are a few things that strike me about Miss Jean Brodie on this reading. It has a witty brilliance that is very much a product of the 'swinging sixties' when it was first published. Spark's text is spare and economical, and there is a clipped style in the phrasing that keeps you turning pages to see where the next quite outrageous statement is going to land. However, the sizzling undercurrents of subversive politics and sex, when taken out of the party circuit of 60s movies and situated in a girls' school, become something quite dark in a weird kind of way - at least, that's how it reads for me now, given that I'm reading through a filter of remembering that we studied this book as 14/15 year olds.

There is also the most delicious frisson created by the conversations between Miss Brodie and her set of girls - topics that would normally be off-limits, and taboos broken by crossing boundaries that wouldn't normally be crossed, as in this denunciation of the school's headmistress by Miss Brodie:
"So I intend simply to point out to Miss Mackay that there is a radical difference in our principals of education. Radical is a word pertaining roots - Latin radix, a root.We differ at root, the headmistress and I, upon the question of whether we are employed to educate the minds of girls or to intrude upon them. We have had this argument before, but Miss Mackay is not, I may say, an outstanding logician. A logician is one skilled in logic. Logic is the art of reasoning ..."
I cannot, for a moment, imagine any teacher of mine discussing the merits, or lack of, of one of their colleagues with us... There was a distinct space between us and them. The very rare times that that bent I can remember with particular clarity, and with only a single exception in my whole high school career, that distance was consistently maintained. But, the power these confidences gave Miss Brodie over her girls at their most impressionable age, was considerable. They became set apart from the rest of the school, and while this wasn't always comfortable for them individually, collectively it gave them a sense of power and notoriety that was, if you consider the need for adolescents to rebel, highly desirable. Even as they started to branch out and find themselves as individuals, the Brodie legacy was evident:
But Miss Brodie as leader of the set, Miss Brodie as a Roman matron, Miss Brodie as an educational reformer were still prominent. It was not always comfortable, from the school point of view, to be associated with her. The lack of team spirit alone, the fact that the Brodie set preferred golf to hockey or netball if they preferred anything at all, were enough to set them apart, even if they had not dented in the crowns of their hats and tilted them backwards or forwards. It was impossible for them to escape from the Brodie set because they were the Brodie set in the eyes of the school. Nominally, they were members of Holyrood, Melrose, Argyll and Biggar, but it had been well known that the Brodie set had no team spirit and did not care which house won the team shield. They were not allowed to care. Their disregard had now become an institution, to be respected like the house system itself. For their own part, and without this reputation, the six girls would have gone each her own way by the time she was in the fourth form and had reached the age of sixteen.
But it was irrevocable, and they mode the most of it, and saw that their position was really quite enviable. Everyone thought the Brodie set had more fun than anyone else, what with visits to Cramond, to Teddy Lloyd's studio, to the theatre and teas with Miss Brodie. And indeed it was so. And Miss Brodie was always a figure of glamorous activity even in the eyes of the non-Brodie girls.
And yet, ultimately, there is a sense of damage that starts to make itself felt, as sense that, for the girls, individually, many things aren't as Miss Brodie says they must be - or, more to the point, that there are other ways to approach things, understand them and experienced than the way she insists. As the girls find and develop individual skills and personal characteristics, they start to resist her, even if they're not consciously aware that that is what they're doing. One of them - Sandy - who went on to study psychology and then became a nun - is perhaps the most sharply observant and questioning of Miss Brodie, although she never actually confronts her. In her observations of Miss Brodie's obsession with the art master - with whom she is in love but never pursues on her own account - she realises that there are many layers in what is going on:
She thought of Miss Brodie eight years ago sitting under the elm tree telling her first simple love story and wondered to what extent it was Miss Brodie who had developed complications throughout the years, and to what extent it was her own conception of Miss Brodie that had changed.
It is Sandy, in the end, who betrays Miss Brodie who is retired from her position at the school knowing - because the headmistress can't resist the dig - that it was one of her own set who did the deed. The set stay in touch, the others visiting Sandy in her convent, and always, Miss Brodie comes up in conversation, remembered overall with fondness. The others never know that Sandy was the cause of Miss Brodie's dismissal.

I think, as a girl's 'rite of passage' story, there are themes and issues that crop up that have a certain universality about them, but I don't know how today's girls would manage this particular book. I think that there is too much of it that is peculiar to the time of its writing, and also its setting - pre-WWII Edinburgh. Perhaps the marvelous film that was made, with the redoubtable Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie (and I can't honestly imagine anyone else who could have played her so utterly perfectly) might be more accessible.

Photograph:Maggie Smith (center) appears surrounded by fellow actresses in a scene from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969).

If anyone has thoughts/memories of this particular book, please comment. Likewise any other books that were studied at school or uni and you have re-visited...




Monday, 14 May 2012

What writers get up to when not writing...

http://assets.flavorwire.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/proust.jpg
Marcel Proust with tennis raquet guitar

This is - due to work pressures, and the imminent house move - what another blogger I follow calls an 'interim post'. I'm still reading - saving my sanity - but it's a deep retreat into kid's lit, and not a lot of headspace for commentary. So, enjoy these...
Another gem from one of my Facebook buddies - so, my writer friends out there (bloggers included...), what are your means of blowing off steam??

See the link for more pics:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

National Year of Reading

  Free novels in caf├ęs for National Year of Reading

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook:


Go Coventry Library, in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia - this is very cool!!


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Procrastinating again...with Ethel Turner and Rumer Godden

It's Friday - again... So, I'm working on the weekly freelance assignment. I have a new list of keyword phrases to work with - after bashing the last list about as far as I could over a two month stretch. So, in the spirit of maintaining sanity, and alleviating the brain strain of repetitive SEO writing, I'm procrastinating by dropping in here - since I think I've emailed everyone I can think of to say hi to already in between articles!!

Having written last time about my Ethel Turner books, I pulled The Little Larrikin off the bookshelves the other day for a re-read. It is one of her books that really points to the distance between the haves and have-nots in a particular period of Australian history. In one small, poorly kept and poorly supplied household, a family of orphaned boys struggle to keep themselves afloat. The eldest of them is determined to keep them together, but struggles to manage on his tiny salary as a law clerk. The youngest of them, the larrikin of the title, is an engaging imp for whom different social classes and the physical barriers of fences hold little relevance... On the other side of the story are two sisters, one of whom has married well and is determined that her younger, less conventional sister does the same. The link is, of course, between Roger and Linley - the poor young lawyer and the younger sister. He loves her, but knows he's in no position to ask her to marry him. She would, in a heartbeat, but is held back by her older sister. Young Lol - Laurence, the larrikin - has befriended both women, unbeknown to his older brother, and involves them in a multitude of his scrapes. Roger continues to meet Linley at various social affairs,where he is regarded as a promising young chap, but a ways off being able to make his mark. It is a lovely book, and yes, it does all come right in the end!


Prior to this one, I gobbled up Rumer Godden's Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum. For those of you other book junkies who collect and read children's literature, if you haven't stumbled across Godden yet, get ye hence to the bookstores and see what you can find... My first reading of her was a gem of a book called The Diddakoi, in condensed form in a Reader's Digest book (remember those, in an earlier post?).  I tracked down a full length version in paperback eventually, and the photo credit for the cover pic says it's from a BBC adaptation, but I've never managed to get my hands on that.

I found the other two books years ago in the school library and my current copies are newer Puffin paperbacks with fairly icky cover art. However, the stories are exquisite. The first tells of young Nona, who has been sent by her father from India to live with her young London cousins and go to school. She's very lonely, finds everything strange and foreign, doesn't know how to manage in the give and take of a regular family and is, consequently, very miserable. Things change when a great aunt in America sends, for Christmas, two small Japanese dolls, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. They are given to Nona and Belinda, the youngest of her girl cousins, and closest to her in age. Belinda is a rough and tumble tomboy, not much given to dolls, so she is initially happy for Nona to have them. However, when, in her endeavours to provide the dolls with a proper Japanese house, Nona enlists cousin Tom's help and starts making friends with the prickly owner of the local bookshop, her class teacher and Melly, the girl who she sits next to at school, Belinda starts to feel left out and the trouble begins...  Little Plum carries on where the first book ends, with the addition of a new family with a little girl next door, a new little doll next door, and more trouble from Belinda. If you want to know what happens, you're going to have to go find yourself copies!!


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the work of Rumer Godden, she is well worth seeking out. She is that rare beast, a writer who has written both children's and adult's fiction - equally well. She is English, but spent her early childhood in India. She and her sisters were sent back to England to boarding school and then, schooling over, were brought back to India to marry. She did, to a charming but difficult man who wasn't cut out for married life. Godden's two volume autobiography - A Time to Dance and A Time to Weep and A House with Four Rooms - is unsparing of the failings of them both. Her adventures in Kashmir with her children and eventual return to England are punctuated by her struggles to survive financially and to keep writing and get her books published.

She has been hugely successful. Black Narcissus and The River - for adults - both received critical acclaim and were made into films - production of The River on location offering Godden her first trip back to India in many years. She was also involved in the creation of that wonderful realisation of Beatrix Potter's stories that were filmed by the Sadlers Wells Ballet.  Her children's books are not the ordinary, run of the mill story to be expected of their period or the age group they target. There is always something just a little bit dark in them, and something very real about the children. So, she offers something for everyone - go see what you can find in your local second hand bookshop, because many of her books are now out of print, although I don't know what might be found via Amazon because I've not yet allowed myself to go near their website for fear of the consequences for my budget and the bookcases....

And, lastly, thanks to Blogger's new stats and traffic analysis, I see I have readers all over the world, some of whom are finding me from rather unexpected locations. Sign up and follow me, and join the conversation!! Tell me what you're reading as well....

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Treasures: Ethel Turner

Some of the other literary blogs I follow put me to shame in terms of the writers' disciplined approach and solidly written reviews. But then, I didn't set out to create a blog of book reviews - there are, as I'm discovering, people out there already doing it very well indeed. Having said that, my last few posts have been a tad scatty, so many thanks to those of you who are sticking with me! I decided, in advance of a looming house move - don't ask...it wasn't part of the plan - that, prior to crating all my books yet again, I'd have a good look over them and share some of my special treasures.

Lovers of Australian children's literature will be familiar with Ethel Turner's books. Her most well known work - I think, correct me if I'm wrong - is Seven Little Australians. It was read to me as a small child, and there was a truly wonderful television series made, with Leonard Teale as the Colonel. It's never been aired again, and I'd dearly love to ransack the ABC cellars to find it and get it on again!

It's a wondrous book that tells the story of a a large family in a state of genteel poverty. The 'seven' are the children of a most upright army colonel who, when widowed, marries a much younger second wife - only a few years older than his eldest daughter - who bears him the youngest of the brood. They're a madcap crew of boys and girls, all suffering for want of kindly discipline that their young stepmother is incapable of delivering and their father is equally incapable of - his is of a much more rigid brand.

Meg has social aspirations which she can't quite attain, although not for want of trying, and suffers from being the oldest girl with responsibilities she just doesn't want to shoulder. Pip, the oldest boy is at university, but struggles to keep up with his comrades through lack of funds and feels the penny pinching more often than not. Nell wants to be grown up but is far off convincing anyone that she's worthy of being considered so. Bunty, the younger boy is overweight, accident-prone, lazy, greedy and is constantly in trouble... Baby, actually Winifred but no one has yet remembered to call her that since the advent of the newest member of the family was born, is Bunty's only friend and defender. 'The General' is the baby, much loved by them all. In the middle is Judy, the strongest, most self-willed of the lot, whose energy and lack of direction lands her continually in scrape after scrape - sometimes on her own, but often involving the others.

Anyone who knows this book knows Judy's story and will understand when I say that the pages of my book are greatly tear spotted at a certain point from many readings. What you might not know is that, in response to many, many letters begging for more of Judy, Turner wrote a book called Judy and Punch, which tells the story of the period when Judy runs away from boarding school. In the original story, there is just a gap at home while she's at school before Pip finds her hiding in the woodshed. I already had the other two book in the main trilogy but it was years before I could track a copy of this one down - and the triumph when I found it was immense, especially as a landed myself a first edition!


The lovely thing about so many of Turner's books for a Sydneysider is the local settings. Flower o'the Pine is set in Manly - pre-Harbour Bridge, so the only sensible commute for the two student members of that household is the ferry to Circular Quay. It's possible to go to Manly and traipse around and see things from identical viewpoints as are described in the book.

There is also oodles of the social history of Sydney at the time. Turner came to Australia from England as a child - Three Little Maids is autobiographically based - and she knew all too well the struggle to maintain appearances on little money, and the desirability of meeting the right people and marrying well. When you read her journals, the day to day facts of her life that lie behind the stories are little different from the tales she wove. I was taken to task by one of my art history lecturers at art school for using a quote from Mother's Little Girl in a paper about the development of the domestic floor plan in Australia. She said, in her comments, that it was an inappropriate text to reference for an academic paper. I argued my choice on the basis of using the text as part of the available social history commentary of the era - as this book describes, in one beautifully evocative paragraph, the origins of the Australian Dream; to have one's own house on a quarter acre block. I'm not sure if I actually lost marks for using the novel as a reference, in later discussions, she held her ground, although the other history lecturer didn't see the problem!

A word of warning for would be Turner collectors, particularly the older editions. Ward Lock, Turner's publisher, made beautiful solidly constructed hardcover novels, with thick, heavy, blotting-paper like pages... They are large, and very heavy. Two points: you need a lot of bookshelf room. I only have about half of what she wrote, and they take up a full three foot shelf's worth of space . Secondly, if you find a second hand bookshop with a stack of them, take your finds one by one to the sales counter. Do not, as I did on one memorable occasion, stack them on one arm and keep traveling along the shelves with your head on one side. You will put your neck out. I did. It made, after weeks of physiotherapy to put it right, for a very expensive pile of books...

But...for all that, this is something of what you will be looking at:







Friday, 4 May 2012

Modjeska does fiction...

Oh my.... Drusilla Modjeska has just published her first novel, The Mountain. For this, I will have to visit a bookshop, and soon...

This woman is one of my biggest inspirations as a writer. Every time I read her work, I find myself writing madly. The blend of biography and fiction that is uniquely hers - Poppy, The Orchard - offered me an insight into how I might begin to bring the stories in my head to life. Her joint biography on Grace Cossington Smith and Stella Bowen, Stravinsky's Lunch, broke all the classic rules of biographies, focusing on the issues of both women as they struggled to maintain a balance between their art and their loves. Their life stories were there, but with layers of insight that are often missing from more standard books in the genre. It is ages and ages since she published something new.

There is a wonderful article in today's Sydney Morning Herald - itself well worth the read. But, methinks a trip to Oscars tomorrow will be on the list of things to do...

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Reactions to my books from fellow commuters

I have to say, the reactions of fellow commuters to the books one reads on public transport can be quite amusing - on the odd occasion I'm not so absorbed in what I'm reading that I actually notice! This morning, I was continuing with the Arab-Israeli history I started the other day. I looked up at one point to see someone eyeballing me from the seat opposite - and not looking exactly friendly - even if the less than comfortable nature of an early morning bus was taken into account.

It brought other books to mind. I own about half the series of The Abbey Girls - an out of print series by Elsie J. Oxenham, of vintage English boarding school stories. Don't shoot me... The first few I had are part of a collection of books that have just ALWAYS been in my bookcases - probably old books of my mother's. But then in my late teens, when we moved from the country to the city and there were suddenly lots of second hand bookcases, I started finding them everywhere. Years later, when I was in art school, I discovered there were clubs of women all over the world that were formed around ownership of books in this particular series, and I joined - and I don't do the whole group thing. At that point, I started hunting in earnest for them and got the collection up to the point it is now, which includes a number of difficult to obtain rare ones. While that series was a common point among us, everyone had significant collections of children's literature, with interestingly different styles.

But I digress...

I have been on public transport with some of these books, and let me tell you, being dressed professionally - I'm not madly corporate, but it's clear I'm heading to some kind of office - and having my nose buried in a large, fat hardcover novel with a dust-jacket sporting a period illustration of girls in whites playing cricket, or in facsimile period dress folk dancing, has raised some eyebrows!

And yet, I'd like a dollar for every corporate type (actual suits...) I've seen in the last few months on the ferries and buses deeply absorbed in The Hunger Games, and there are still odd volumes of the Harry Potter books to be seen in the hands of adults.

While I began with the reaction to my deadly serious Middle-Eastern history this morning, it triggered memories of my journeys with children's books. So, what is it? There seem to be those who are amused, and look kind of, I don't know, condescending. And yet, there are all those grown ups en route to their day in the office, traveling in the realm of story-telling. Personally, I think it's very healthy - there are some great kids books with more solid stories than some of the current pulp fiction (still working on where I sit on The Hunger Games). But, is it such a guilty pleasure?

Not for me. I have my hefty history, which in the bites afforded to me by the time it takes me to get into the city, will take me some time to get through. At home, when I just want to chill and not think too hard, I'm currently reading E. Nesbit's The Railway Children. I loved it as a kid, and adored the BBC's version with Jenny Agutter as Bobbie, and I have a hazy memory about there being a remake in the pipeline with Agutter back again as the children's mother.... I'll have to watch out for that.

There's a child in all of us. Those great stories we loved - they're still great, and still worth reading - so we can remember that there are books that are just great stories, intended to transport, to be thought about too seriously, just to be enjoyed...